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A Major Challenge for Mr. Biden

 

Mr. Biden’s Leadership Challenge           Gerry OShea

King Solomon is presented in the bible as the epitome of wisdom. The story goes that God gave him the opportunity to ask for whatever gift he deemed most important, and he did not choose wealth or grandiosity, as most leaders would, but pleaded instead for the gift of wisdom.

One biblical story shows how well the king understood human nature. Two women were brought before him claiming motherhood of the same baby. Each made emotional pleas that the baby was hers. Solomon called for his sword proclaiming that he would divide the child and give each one half. At this, the real mother objected and offered to let her opponent have the baby rather than allow the death of her child. Needless to say, Solomon banished the phony mother.

President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic who is well-versed in the two Testaments, will have to pray for Solomonic insights when he considers how to deal with serious accusations of illegality against his predecessor in the White House. How he works through this knotty question may determine the success or failure of his first term as president.

The President-elect wants to lessen the sense of divisiveness and near-tribalism that characterize current life in America. The vast majority of Republicans support Donald Trump and think he deserves high praise for his leadership, while most Democrats shrivel at his untutored approach to public life and are dismissive of any mention of positive achievements. The great English poet, Rudyard Kipling’s words definitely apply: “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

Psychologists write about what they call a Confirmation Bias which applies in spades to the situation we are discussing. It means in this situation that members of both parties tend to consider only information which bolsters their own opinion.

After the Mueller Report was published, President Trump and his Attorney General, William Barr, declared that it contained no evidence of malfeasance by the president. But the report did not go even near to clearing Mr. Trump of the very serious charge of working with and supporting the strategies of the Russian Government to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.

 In fact, Mr. Mueller felt compelled to publicly disavow the Attorney General’s position, and hundreds of experienced prosecutors concurred, declaring that the report calls for further investigation of  the president’s actions, in particular his alleged obstruction of justice.

What will the new president do when the inevitable cry goes up for the Justice Department to open the voluminous Mueller Report and formally re-examine the contents to answer the obstruction question?

 A new Attorney General will be under intense pressure from Democrats around the country to initiate a case for possible prosecution. The division is drawn along party lines on this issue. Steve Bannon, founder of Breitbart News and a strong Trump supporter, has warned that once a person has taken a firm position on any issue there is only a minimal chance that he will change his mind. He contends that the power of persuasion is vastly overestimated.

The evidence against Mr. Trump includes the words of Don McGahn, his former White House Counsel, that the president gave instructions that Mr. Mueller should be fired. When he changed his mind after the original instruction was leaked to the press, there was a pleading message from the White House that McGahn should not only deny that there was ever a communication from the president on this matter but that he should also write a memo confirming this denial.

 The facts are not in dispute here. The Democratic senators wanted to call McGahn during the impeachment trial to ask him what happened when he was contacted by Mr. Trump about the Special Prosecutor, but the Republican majority voted not to invite him.

Mature Democratic voices will be raised urging the new man in the White House to let sleeping dogs lie and close the book on all this. But just as assuredly, he will hear how Trump led repeated chants for Hillary Clinton, his opponent in 2016, to be locked up with no proof, before or since, that she did anything illegal.

Again, in a similar vein, during the campaign that just ended he called on his compliant Attorney General, William Barr, to prosecute the former vice-president and his son, Hunter, for imaginary breaches of the law. Mr. Trump expressed disapproval and frustration with Mr. Barr when he declined this request because he could find no evidence whatsoever supporting the accusation.

Mr. Biden is not known as a vindictive politician, but he is defined by his devotion to his family, and Trump’s wild and insulting accusations involving his son during the campaign left a deep scar that makes demands for magnanimity hard to digest.

Then there is a matter of applying the law equally, mindful that a core message in every eighth grade Civics class stresses that nobody is ever above the law. Jon Meacham, the professor and historian, claims that the founding fathers were greatly influenced by Calvinist teaching whose tenets stress the evil and corruption that frequently dominate human interactions.

 Accepting this Calvinistic view, they expect selfish and unprincipled behavior by rulers and so strong laws are needed to counteract human frailty. Such regulations must be implemented because they provide the only protection in a morally-compromised universe. In this line of thinking, the rule of law has to be honored or the whole constitutional edifice will crumble.

Ironically, Republicans claim to be the party of law and order while Democrats are often painted as mollycoddling criminals.  As the saying goes: it depends on whose ox is being gored!

Seventy-three million Americans voted for Donald Trump and in a recent shocking poll about 75% of these voters think Trump was robbed, that the election results are fraudulent – that is about 55 million citizens who are angry that their candidate has been cheated. Never mind that there isn’t a scintilla of evidence to support this contention, as determined by the Attorney General and dozens of judges since the election.

The American body politic is really shattered when our elections, the bedrock of any democracy, are perceived by so many as lacking credibility. The massive numbers denying the results bodes poorly for the future of constitutional government in the United States.

Apart from possible federal law suits facing Mr. Trump, the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, is investigating allegations of hush money payments made during the 2016 campaign to two women who claim that they had an affair with Trump and were paid to stay quiet about it. Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former attorney, served time in jail for lying about this offense while showing a copy of the check that his boss gave him to make the payment.

Mr. Vance is also investigating possible tax fraud, and Letitia James, the Attorney General for New York State, is looking into a Civic charge that he inflated financial statements to get loans and tax benefits.

Joe Biden or his Attorney General will have no say in local decisions to prosecute or not. It doesn’t end there. Two women who claim that Trump raped them many years ago are now suing him for defamatory statements he made against them in his counter-attacks dismissing their assertions. Also, Michael Cohen is going to court for two million in legal fees to cover his defense in the case that sent him to prison.

Former vice-president, Joe Biden, says that, unlike his predecessor, he will not interfere with the operation of the Justice Department. He will play no part in any decision about who should be sued. No doubt about his sincerity but he appoints the Attorney General and, in the final analysis, is responsible for whatever goes on in his administration.

He is in a no-win situation, damned no matter what he does. Only Solomon could shed light in his predicament. Nothing less will do.

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